Md. fire departments to offer 'safe stations' to help drug addicts
The initiative comes at a time when the county has seen an increase in reported opioid overdoses, with 354 so far in 2017
By Phil Davis
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — They couldn't have asked for more immediate interest.
Inside the Brooklyn Park Volunteer Fire Company's fire house, a who's-who of Anne Arundel County dignitaries gathered to offer sanctuary to those addicted to drugs. About two hours later, someone took them up on their offer when a man walked into the fire station and asked for help with his addiction.
The region's fire departments and police stations will serve as resource centers for people addicted to drugs who want help and also will give free medical evaluations to those seeking treatment, county and Annapolis officials announced Thursday. The initiative comes at a time when the county has seen an increase in reported opioid overdoses, with 354 so far in 2017 — 100 more than during the same period in 2016.
County Executive Steve Schuh said the "safe stations" will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. His administration has implemented and advocated efforts over the past two-and-a-half years — from doubling funding for purchasing more drugs that combat the symptoms of overdoses to educating children about the dangerous of drugs.
Still, "the problem has only gotten worse," he said.
The safe stations mirror a program started in Manchester, New Hampshire, where law enforcement officials said they've directed about 30 people a month to residential treatment, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.
Those who walk into a fire or police station will first be given a medical assessment.
If the person is deemed healthy enough not to need immediate medical attention, Schuh said they will be given access to the county's detoxification services and be put in touch with the county's Crisis Response Team to "recover and reclaim their lives."
"Like so many other aspects of this crisis, government is not going to solve this problem alone," Schuh said. "We need the help of each and every member of the public to let everyone know that these resources are available and that there is hope, there is help."
Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Wes Adams said the policy is part of a growing culture within law enforcement to change the dynamics of handling those who struggle with addiction.
"My priority is reducing crime. My office consistently looks for innovative ways to do that," Adams said. "It's imperative to do that in the long-term that we look at addiction differently than we do dealing (drugs)."
He added that those who come into one of the county's safe stations who are wanted on active warrants or have been given notices for failing to appear in court will first be treated for the addiction.
"Some of those instances, people who want to walk away from crime have an open warrant, have a (failure to appear), and they need to know they can safely walk into this station and understand we will move them along the path to resolve those consequences, but our priority is to get them into treatment," he added.
Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides said the program will also be adopted by the Annapolis Fire Department's three stations in the city.
Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare said the conversation about "amnesty moments" started around Schuh's election.
"The amnesty moment makes total sense for the person who's coming in here looking help with their addiction," Altomare said. "We can't walk the marathon for you, but we can help you walk the first few steps."
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